After four years of hard work, a clear vision and an unwavering commitment to seeing every student succeed, the Hidden River Middle School staff has been honored with the title of a model Professional Learning Community (PLC) school by Solution Tree. Hidden River Middle School is one of only 34 middle schools nationwide to have earned this title.
So, what is a PLC? A PLC is not a program; it is an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively to define exactly what each student must learn, monitor each student's learning on a regular basis, provide systematic interventions that ensure students receive additional time and support for learning when they struggle, and extend and enrich learning when students have already mastered the intended outcomes.
The very essence of a learning community is a focus on and a commitment to the learning of every student. When a school functions as a PLC, educators within the organization embrace high levels of learning for all students as both the reason the organization exists and the fundamental responsibility of those who work within it. In order to achieve this purpose, the members of a PLC create and are guided by a clear and compelling vision of what the organization must become in order to help all students learn. They make collective commitments clarifying what each member will do to create such an organization, and they use results-oriented goals to mark their progress.
In 2013, the dedicated staff at Hidden River embarked on their PLC journey. Staff frustration was at an all-time high and student performance on the state assessment that year was abysmal, especially when analyzing student growth. In a school with roughly one fourth the number of students as their feeder high school, they had twice the number of students failing courses.
Team meetings at that time consisted mostly of nuts and bolts items and logistical to-do lists, rarely focused on student learning. In short, they had an amazing group of well-intended staff members with no direction or common goal. As frustrations boiled over, the brave staff began to get real with their data and circumstances, realizing that change needed to occur.
The staff at HRMS began by defining their core values and how to behave as a team to create the type of school they would want for their own children. The act of outlining their mission and vision together as a team finally put the staff on the same bus, heading in the same direction, so their amazing talents and skills could be unleashed to do great things for kids.
Teams then began to define essential learning standards, giving them clarity on what students must learn and allowing them to cut things out that weren't essential. At this time, they started a lunch-time ZAP (Zeros Aren't Permitted) intervention, communicating to the students that they would no longer allow them to fail. The master schedule began to evolve and common prep times were added to allow teaching teams time for collaboration.
As time passed, momentum started to build. Teams began to create common assessments together and set growth goals for their students. The goals were posted in the staff room and in each classroom, revealing a level of intentionality that was new for the staff. As teams became more focused and began analyzing student data together, they decided it would be beneficial to have a study period, or "Hawk Time" as they call it, in the middle of the day to allow them the fluidity to support students as a team in mastering essential standards.
In year four, they placed all students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), for the first time, back into grade level classes in reading and math, getting rid of the former resource room model completely. Teachers quickly realized how big the learning gaps were for these students and while this created teaching challenges, they were determined to keep their commitment to equitable learning experiences for ALL students. So they rolled up their sleeves and learned together how to provide these students with the same access to grade-level standards. Students proved to them that when teachers truly believe in their students, they will rise to meet those expectations.
Through hard work, dedication and a commitment to their students, the HRMS staff are achieving their purpose in ensuring that "ALL students learn the essential academic, social, and citizenship skills to be successful in middle school and beyond." Their failure rates have decreased steadily since they began their PLC journey and, inversely, the number of students on the honor roll has risen each year. The staff culture and climate data is at an all-time high. The performance of their students on the state assessments has improved, especially with regards to the level at which students are showing growth on those assessments in comparison to other schools in our state.
In an effort to recognize and honor the hard work and commitment of his staff, HRMS Principal, Brett Wille, applied for HRMS to be named as a model Professional Learning Community school through Solution Tree. To receive this honor, a school must demonstrate a commitment to PLC concepts, implement those concepts for at least three years, and present clear evidence of improved student learning. After thorough consideration by a panel of PLC practitioners using rigorous criteria, HRMS earned the honor of being named a model PLC school. This means that other schools looking to implement PLC concepts can look to HRMS as a successful model.
Since receiving the title of a model PLC school just a few months ago, several schools around our region have either visited HRMS to observe practices or have reached out for support. Next month, a school from Moscow, Idaho is even traveling to HRMS to observe and glean wisdom for implementing similar practices in their own school. "This is a HUGE compliment to our staff and a real source of celebration for us that schools are looking to us as a model school to learn from," Wille said."Our staff truly is committed to this process and the difference that it has made for our students is remarkable," stated Wille. And really, that's what matters most.